oh, bother

A random assortments of thoughts.

Please welcome Clay (back) to the blogroll.  The new blog, Borrego, can be reached via the link in this post or the link in the blogroll column.

I never read the Winnie the Pooh books by Milne, but I had some Pooh videos (of the various Disney cartoons) when I was younger.  At times, I think that of all literary characters, Pooh is the one I most resemble:



The comparison is not flattering.

I was completing an online poll today, and I was asked whether I thought Obama’s inaugural address had too much rhetoric and too few specifics.  As John sings in “A Day in the Life,” “I just had to laugh.”  A dream project of mine would be to start a blog called “Mere Rhetoric” devoted to finding and cataloging the anti-rhetoric trope that continues to plague modern news reporting.  Thanks a lot, Ramus.

So a person I know does not want to be my friend anymore.  I hope it is temporary(despite the finality of her announcement) but I am terrified that it is not.

Here is what I have been billing as my (latest) “Way Too Early and Incredibly Vague Diss Idea:”

As you’ve noticed, one thing that I’ve been interested in in several ways is the
politics of composition, not just how comp does politics but how it works in
relationship to broader political phenomena and especially its relationship to
critical theory.  My diss idea begins in the sixties, since I think it is important to
emphasize that composition (in its modern form) has its roots, in essence, as a
political discipline in that a lot of the early expressivist folks of the sixties
(Macrorie, early Elbow, early Coles) saw comp pedagogy as a way to engage the
rhetorics of the student rights movements of the era.  Of course, the student
rights movement(s) are caught up in the larger concerns of the era, such as the
civil rights movement, women’s lib, and the antiwar movement.  My M.A. work
has already tried to sow this field a little by asking some questions about how
the field understood protest as a rhetorical form (to be fair, they didn’t) and how
they ignored other forms of rhetorical action at the time (the bed-ins).  As a starting point, we can look to
Joseph Harris (1997) who has written about some of this.

In the 70s and 80s, the field seem more concerned with professionalizing
itself and so we saw the emergence and widespread adoption of process
pedagogy.  At the same time, basic writing and the CCCC Statement on Students
Rights’ to their Own Language emerge in the early and mid-70s, and though
each development is political in its own way they are so in ways that don’t have
as obvious a connection to larger political trends as did expressivist pedagogy
in the decade before.  Faigley (1992) and Tobin (2005?) have written about
process and its relationship to the claims for comp’s disciplinarity in this period.

Into the 80s and 90s (the period here that I need to do more research on) comp
finds theory and sides are taken in the era’s culture wars.  I won’t say more here
because I need to read more, but the point I’m interested in investigating is the
culture wars and how the 80s and 90s emergence of neoliberalism was felt in the
university in general and comp in particular.

So, looking back over these three periods (60s, 70s/80s, 80s/90s), to the
extent that comp has taken up the politics of the larger culture/society, it has
done so largely in terms of politics relevant to the modernist democratic nation-
state: who has the right to speak, who has power, how can power be
redistributed in more democratic ways through discursive intervention.  What
comp hasn’t really accounted for then is how to react to changes in power in the
post-nation-state  global economy, or, we might say, under Empire.  (This is
especially true in terms of, say critical pedagogy, but this isn’t really my focus.)

So, a lot of this is background and now we come to the really comp part of my
idea.  To the extent that comp’s politics have traditionally been tied to political
forms native to the nation-state, so too have its ideas of political efficacy and
pedagogy.  What comp needs then is a new sense of political form , both in
terms of what is taught (does an essay make sense under Empire?  I don’t
know, but that’s kind of the point at this phase) and in how it is taught.

I realize this is a mad jumble at present, so here is a somewhat more
schematic breakdown of these things might get broken down by chapters:

1) 60s comp: emergence of rhetcomp as (in part) a political intervention into
the students’ rights movement

2) 70s/80s: professionalization of the field and (to some extent) a
depoliticization of its mission in the rise of Reagan republicanism and a focus
on standards and “back to basics” teaching (see Faigley on this, and I think
Crowley has addressed it as well).

3) 80s/90s/00s: theory, culture wars, neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism,
decline of the nation-state.  What is comp to do now?

4) What are the rhetorical forms appropriate for the nation-state?  For Empire?
How has comp historically and in contemporary ways understood the
relationship of rhetorical form to political struggle?

5) What are the pedagogical forms appropriate for the nation-state and for
Empire?  How has comp seen pedagogy as a political tool and has it changed
that conception as the form and structure of power has changed?  (A loaded
question – – I imply it has not adequately done so.)

There are caveats aplenty in there, but this rough sketch has found some love from a couple of faculty members who would be likely to be on my committee.

I have been reading Postman and Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity. It has something in common with comp scholars of 68/69/70 like Deemer and Lutz who wanted to (re)make the scene of teaching/learning as something capable of being other job training or rote memorization.  I image it has some overlap with critical pedagogical tactics, but it does so with less emphasis on promoting a specific politics (that is, it is less about being anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-capitalist, than it is about reforming teaching–but in ways that sound familiar from the little critical pedagogy I’ve read).  Their key intervention is to read the classroom space as McLuhan might, as a medium, and to argue for a new idea about how teaching and learning should be conducted.  Good stuff, and I am looking forward to reading their later book, The Soft Revolution, as well.  What I find promising about that book (from what I’ve skimmed fo far) is that it puts much of the responsibility for educational reform on the students themselves.  In that sense, it is very 60s/early-70s, but it does so in a way that is not about coming to “critical consciousness” (or not just about it) but actually doing things about educational injustices and whatnot.

Pooh Bear.  Really?

words from our sponsor

From Martin, Rux. “Truth, Power, Self: An Interview With Michel Foucault October 25, 1982.” Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. Eds. Luther H., Huck Gutman, and Patrick H. Hutton. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1998.

The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.  If you knew when you began a book what you would say at the end, do you think that you would have the courage to write?  What is true for writing and for a love relationship is true also for life.  The game is worthwhile insofar as we don’t know what will be the end.

Here is MF with hair.  Wtf?!?!?

Here is MF with hair. Wtf?!?!?

vroom doom

From Kent Hughes, “Are the Wheels Coming Off the American Auto Industry,” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Washington: Jul 14, 2006. Vol. 52, Iss. 45; pg. B.11:

Where is the industry headed? Hybrids that run on both gasoline and batteries are already on the road. Ethanol is widely used in Brazil, where flex-fuel engines can run on gasoline, ethanol, or any mix of the two. Serious research continues on hydrogen and fuel cells, although breakthroughs don’t seem imminent.

In the near term, Maynard in her End of Detroit points to three possibilities: further shrinkage, perhaps leading to bankruptcy; GM and Ford securing antitrust approval to form a single, dominant company; or GM and Ford following the Chrysler example and finding a foreign partner.

Maxton and Wormald see two choices for the old-line American industry. Without change, it faces a kind of “graceless degradation,” not unlike the shrinkage scenario of Maynard. Their alternative is a fourth revolution, to succeed Henry Ford’s mass production, Alfred P. Sloan’s mass customization (a model for every consumer need), and Toyota’s lean production. The new revolution would be an unbundling, with specialized suppliers and assemblers, and new competitors in the industry. Instead of the integrated auto companies of the past, Maxton and Wormald foresee many companies, each with a narrow core competence in one aspect of the industry — say, engines, or design, or even assembling and then branding parts made by others. Sectors of the electronics industry have pursued such a path — the companies without factories that design semiconductors and have them made by others, or Dell, which assembles parts made by a number of companies.

The stakes go well beyond the interests of industry and labor. The Big Three are woven into thousands of supply chains — steel, springs, logistics planning — that remain an important market for new innovations and do much more U.S.-based research and development than do their rivals based abroad. Without painful change by the Big Three or some public-sector intervention, current trends will continue to favor foreign manufacturers.

Hahahahahaha!!  The answer is they are going straight to heck!  In an automated handbasket, no less.

why i hate due dates

I took CW’s post as a challenge.

Ficciones / Jorge Luis Borges ; edited and introduced by Gordon Brotherston and Peter Hulme.
Ficciones / Jorge Luis Borges with an introduction by John Sturrock.
Perspectives on rhetorical invention / edited by Janet M. Atwill and Janice M. Lauer.
A vulnerable teacher.
Teaching composition as a social process / Bruce McComiskey.
The I-search paper / Ken Macrorie.
Post-process theory : beyond the writing-process paradigm / edited by Thomas Kent.
The conquest of cool : business culture, counterculture, and the rise of hip consumerism / Thomas Fr
The ethos of rhetoric / edited by Michael J. Hyde ; foreword by Calvin O. Schrag.
Ethos : new essays in rhetorical and critical theory / edited by James S. Baumlin, Tita French Bauml
Stars / Richard Dyer.
Celebrity / Chris Rojek.
The resistant writer : rhetoric as immunity, 1850 to the present / Charles Paine.
Rhetoric and kairos : essays in history, theory, and praxis / Phillip Sipiora and James S. Baumlin,
Them : adventures with extremists / Jon Ronson.
Landmark essays on rhetorical invention in writing / edited by Richard E. Young and Yameng Liu.
Kaironomia : on the will-to-invent / Eric Charles White.
The last professors : the corporate university and the fate of the humanities / Frank Donoghue.
Steal this university : the rise of the corporate university and the academic labor movement / edite
University, Inc. : the corporate corruption of American higher education / Jennifer Washburn.
Beyond the corporate university : culture and pedagogy in the new millennium / edited by Henry A. Gi
Throwaways : work culture and consumer education / Evan Watkins.
The great Sophists in Periclean Athens / Jacqueline de Romeilly ; translated by Janet Lloyd.
Plato’s dream of sophistry / Richard Marback.
Negation, subjectivity, and the history of rhetoric / Victor J. Vitanza.
The sophistic movement / G.B. Kerferd.
Trials of character : the eloquence of Ciceronian ethos / by James M. May.
Philosophy, rhetoric, literary criticism : (inter)views / edited by Gary A. Olson ; foreword by Clif
Logos and power in Isocrates and Aristotle / Ekaterina V. Haskins.
Network culture : politics for the information age / Tiziana Terranova.
Ethos and pathos : from Aristotle to Cicero / Jakob Wisse.

As an invention heuristic, I kind of like the “library stash” idea.  I tend to compartmentalize different projects: the ethos project, the sophist project, the corporate university project.  Here, though, seeing the sources for them jumbled together, I feel invited, compelled, to find the links between them.

One such, perhaps, is that if the idea of the corporate university is about higher education as job-training & vocationalization of the institution, we might make a move to compare that to the division between the Sophists and their interest in practical manipulation of language and Plato’s philosophy of ideal forms.  Mmm…I don’t know if that idea has legs, but maybe more reading will help.

i am a racist technocrat

This week’s post from Pruchnic’s seminar, in response to Adam Banks, Race, Rhetoric, and Technology: Searching for Higher Ground.

I Am a Racist Technocrat


Will the Real Slim Shady Please Sit Down?

I am not the person to respond to this book because I have little investment in identity politics—and what investment I do have makes me seem like a reactionary, anti-diversity rube who thinks that certain folk are gettin’ uppity when they start talkin’ ‘bout how they ain’t got access. And really, that’s not me. My qualms about identity politics stem from the fact that I want to argue for the constructedness of whiteness as unmarked but the rules of the game are against me. Yes, I understand that categories like African American, woman, subaltern, homosexual are constructed as Other from the perspective of an assumed heteronormative, unmarked white rational masculine subject position. But my interest is not in defending the HUWRMSP as somehow “victimized” by the discourses of legitimation for other subject positions so much as is it rests in arguing that we should recognize the constructedness of all subject positions—but the last time I suggested such a thing in a seminar I was roundly derided.

I start with this preface only because I’m thinking through some issues in relation to Banks’s work that are inevitably shaded by my antipathy toward identity politics. I want to emphasize my interest in the constructedness of all subject positions because I am troubled by Banks’s use of what might be read as an essentialized Black subjectivity in his chapter on the website BlackPlanet and African American discourse tropes. Banks argues in favor of Smitherman’s earlier claim that Black English is intimately tied to a unique “Black” experience; Banks, via Smitherman, maintains that “Black English, as expressed through its oral traditions, represents distinctively African American worldviews” (70). As Banks would have it, the Black worldview, expressed in both oral and literate Black English, can be understood as a scene of resistance and political liberation struggle:

The continued focus of many on the oral in Black English, then, is not a resignation that written English is somehow the exclusive domain of Whites . . . but a matter of remaining true to the roots of the language, no matter what forms it might take now. Maintaining that focus is also an act of self-determination, of resistance, of keeping oppositional identities and worldviews alive, refusing to allow melting pot ideologies to continue to demand that Black people assimilate to the White notions of language and identity as the cost for access to economic goods or a public voice in American society. (70)

This passage is worth citing at length because we here see what I am suggesting is problematic. Yes, Banks does write of Black identities, but not in the sense of a variegated multiplicity of Black subjectivities; rather, the “Black Experience,” it would seem here, is yoked to “authentically” Black literate and oral practices as the site of resistance to (monolithic) White notions of discourse and the subject. Later in the chapter, Banks gives in a little bit, admitting that “the names [of BlackPlanet members] reveal complexity and diversity in notions of exactly what constitutes a Black idenity”; Banks, though, still insists that there is such a thing as a discretely identifiable Black subject, for “all of the users [of BlackPlanet] . . . participate in and claim a Black identity for themselves” (75). I’m left wondering which argument Banks wants us to believe: that the Black subject is a space of contested, negotiated meaning, or that there is something we can call “Black identity” in a non-problematic, non-essentialized way?

And now, a left turn. I know I’m kind off the technology trope here, but really the technological argument Banks is making seems fairly innocent. We need to redefine the Digital Divide; see “access” as a rhetorical problem that can be understood across multiple levels; and read the Civil Rights struggle as a technological, rather than a “merely” legal one? Okay. I’m on board. Back to my left turn.

What makes Banks’s claims about Black English and Black identity so challenging is that it seems to tie racial identity to discursive production, in either the oral or literate genres. It is not difficult to consider two test cases (incongruous though they may be) for the claims Banks is making here. The first is the 313’s own Marshall “Eminem/Slim Shady” Mathers. In his track “The Way I Am,” Em taunts his white critics who accuse him of appropriating a traditionally Black art form: “And I just do not got the patience / to deal with these cocky Caucasians who think / I’m some wigger who just tries to be black cause I talk with an accent . . . .”. Here, Em makes, in a roundabout way, an argument similar to the Banks/Smitherman postulate: what his critics deride is a (perceived) wish to be Black, to be other, but Em refutes that haterade because, he argues, he naturally talks with an “accent”—which here, we might conjecture, means that Em—child of South Warren, friend and student of the Black population across the 8 Mile border—is a native user of Black discursive traditions and therefore, is not a “white nigger” but has some claim to Black experience by virtue of his participation in Black discourse genres. And while I am not Black, I can imagine taking some umbrage at such an argument (even while being dazzled by Em’s flow and mastery of the rap genre); that is, does participation in, and mastery of, the discursive production equate to Black identity?

Alternatively, Barack Obama offers the other test case. While such questions have since grown silent (or at least much quieter), Obama’s candidacy was plagued in its early days by the question of whether he was “Black enough.” Take, for example, the opening to a story from Time magazine from 1 February 2007:

But this is a double-edged sword. As much as his biracial identity has helped Obama build a sizable following in middle America, it’s also opened a gap for others to question his authenticity as a black man. In calling Obama the “first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” the implication was that the black people who are regularly seen by whites — or at least those who aspire to the highest office in the land — are none of these things.

The “not Black enough” trope takes two forms: first, the argument that Obama isn’t “Black enough” is due to his immigrant heritage: not the child of slaves, but the child of an immigrant student and a white (native) mother. He is African comma American, but not African hyphen American. The other version of the trope, expressed here in its most odious form by conservative hack pundit Warner Todd Huston, is that what makes Obama insufficiently Black is his relationship to “the low trending culture developed by the native born:”

Obama isn’t “black enough” not because he might have an immigrant background but because he is educated, eloquent, smooth, and associates with whites. He eschews the thug, rapper lifestyle, the discounting of education and the general downgrading of achievement that is currently accepted by popular black culture in America today.

So, Blacks do not distrust Obama because he is an immigrant and therefore not “black enough”. They distrust him because he is able and successful, smart and educated so that is what makes him not “black enough”.

While I am not qualified to rule on Obama’s “Blackness quotient,” I can still say that I find both versions of the trope distressing from a critical point of view. Here, we have the corollary of the Banks argument; what makes Obama “not Black enough” is his background, and, in particular, his acceptance of “mainstream” or “standard” White discursive forms. While the Huston quote goes some distance to validate Banks’s argument that African Americans are often written off as being uneducable or irredeemably illiterate, Huston’s argument—distasteful as it may be—posits, like Banks, an essentialized Black identity.

The argument I am trying to make here—to the extent that I am making one and not just thinking through some issues—is that any essentialized Black identity becomes problematic. It is either a derogatory assessment of “us people,” or a blanket acceptance of “us folks.”

jumping the gun

I’ve started the reading for JP’s fall seminar.  I read this passage from The Digital Dialectic (ed. Peter Lunenfeld):

We still will publish in book form that which we deem to have lasting significance.  Nothing ages faster and becomes inaccessible quicker than electronic media.  The silver oxide is falling off the tapes that constitute our archive of the pioneering era of video art.  Good luck trying to find a system that can access computer files that are a mere decade old (especially if they were composed on now-abandoned operating systems).  And bit rot (a lovely, though all too appropriate, coinage to deal with the digital’s always already dated qualities) is almost immediate on the World Wide Web, with sites popping up and falling away like flowers in the desert. (xx)

This might be an interesting starting point: something about digitality, decay, temporality–esp. in contrast to the idea that the digital is all about convergence and coming together.  Here, it is as much marked by falling apart.  This is of particular interest when considered against the futurist tropes of uploading consciousness into digital memory devices and the like–an exchange of one mortality for another (though that is not the central interest for me here).

Tentative (way too early title): “ASCII to ASCII, DOS to DOS: Decay, the Digital, and Temporality.”


Here’s the list of books I’m working on reading right now:

  1. Hardt and Negri, Empire. I’m committed to reading 50 pages a day, which means I should be done with this bad body on Wednesday.  Comments to follow.
  2. bell hooks, Talking Back.  Yes, I know I struggled with Teaching to Transgress, but I thought I owed her another chance.
  3. Olson and Worsham (eds.), Critical Intellectuals on Writing.  Excerpts from JAC interviews.  Not nearly as exciting as it sounded.
  4. Virno, Grammar of the Multitude.  I’ve read most of thise bfore, but now that I’m into Hardt/Negri I want to revisit it.  Also, it looks like it might be on JP’s fall syllabus, so a refresher would be in order anyway.
  5. John Muckelbauer, The Future of Invention: Rhetoric, Postmodernism, and the Problem of Change.

So, the last book I’m reading as preparation for likely/possible inclusion as our next Rhetoric Reading group text (though when that will be, I don’t know, esp. if Whirlball takes precedence).  I’ve only read the intro and first chapter, but I’m already kind of puzzled at one of Muckelbauer’s main claims–not so much the content of the claim, but the structure of it.

Muckelbauer begins with the argument that, even in postmodernity, our notion of change is still bound to a modernist, Hegelian dialectic insofar as “change is always and everywhere the effect of overcoming and negation” (x).  This is a point he returns to in Chapter 1, writing that, despite the attempts of pomo theory to overcome dialectical binaries, there is nevertheless a fundamental binary to which pomo theory remains committed:

While most contemporary critiques are directed toward realizing some particular change–whether in social dynamics, institutional structures, or eben just in intellectual landscapes–most also fail to attend to the implications of the movement of change that drives such work.  Another way of saying this is that depsite the incessant and justifiable concern for problematizing a whole series of binary operations throughout the social field, the one binary that has remained firmly intact is that between “the same” and “the different.”  (3)

His project involves engaging the question of change and the problematic surrounding it, but “engaging these questions has less to do with simply accepting or rejecting the content of any particular proposition and more to do with altering the style through which we engage in the everyday practices of reading, writing, and responding” (x-xi).

So far, I’m on board.  Postmodernity has yet to exorcise all the ghosts of the modern era, and we need a change in practices–invention practices, for us rhetoricians–to move beyond the dialectic.  Moving on.

In various arguments, Muckelbauer argues, the move to negation/overcoming typically takes one of three forms:

  1. Advocacy: Emphasizing a  Traditionally Privileged Concept
  2. Critique: Advocating a Traditionally Underprivileged Concept
  3. Synthesis: Valorizing the Indeterminate “in-between” (6-9)

I take the first two here to be fairly self-explanatory.  The third is glossed as follows:

Through concepts such as “intersubjectivity,” “hybridity,” “dialogue,” or the recently popular terminology of “networks” and “ecologies,” this response focuses on the indeterminate space between positions.  …  What warrants attention is not the content of the nodes, but the generative, ambiguous space tht exists between them, the blending of contingency and universality, the conjunction of interpretation and knowledge, the indistinguishable aspects of subjectivity and sociality.  Thus, rather than simply reproducing an oppositional structure, this indeterminate in-between attempts to offer a way of disorienting the repetition of dialectical change.

An yet, in the very effort to redner this is-between, the existence of poles are still presumed.  The disorienting, synthetic move is already oriented by the positions it synthesizes.  …  The indistinguishable blending that occurs . . . assumes that there is a distinguishable separation somewhere other than the boundaries.  In short, to demonstrate the indeterminate or ambiguous in-between is to simultaneously reproduce the oppositional dynamics that characterize the nodes or poles “between” which something exists.  (9)

No, I’m no expert on network theory (though my first Latour book is on its way from Amazon), but I think from what I’ve gleaned second- or third-hand about networks is that Muckelbauer is unfairly tossing “networks” into the phenomena he’s describing here.  My sense (largely from Rice, though from Shaviro’s Connected and from Galloway’s Protocol as well) is that a network doesn’t exist between two points; that (duh?) is not a network but just a link, a connection, a binary.  The network is built from an infinite number of infinite links, from one subject/object to multiple others.  A binary is not a network, no matter how much Muckelbauer wants it to be so here.  I take his point about “synthesizing” arguments, but I think that he reveals a lack of understanding here about networks.

(Update–I just brought in the mail; my first Latour book has arrived from Amazon–yay!)

So Muckelbauer’s project then, is “Moving Beyond the Dialectic” (10).  He is careful to note that, although this seems like it is a simple matter of “overcoming” the dialectic, “any effort to overcome binary logic or move beyond the Hegelian framework simply reproduces this framework” (11).  As he notes further down the page, “any attempt to refuse dialectical change or to move beyond it is necessarily destined to remained trapped within its repetitious negation and trapped by the ethical and political dangers it eables (11-2).  The solution, Muckelbauer argues, is to instead invent a practice of “affirmative change”  that is “irreducible to this repetitous dialectic of negation”.  Here’s where things get a bit crackers for me:

Now, it is extremely important that this affirmative change not be thought of as something that is simply different from dialectical negation–such a gesture would repeat the very problems it wants to address (“that was the old version of change; this is the new one”).  Instead, the key challenge for responding to “the problem of change” is to both articulate and demonstrate an affirmative sense of change that is neither the same as dialectical change nor different from it. (12)

I grant that I’m only 15 or so pages into a 150-odd page book.  I grant that Muckelauer has not yet come to the promised passages of “articulation and demonstration.”  But . . . but . . . isn’t he still, for all his protestations, working within the dialectic?  Instead of the binary same/different, stable/contingent, he’s substituting affirmative/negative.  Oh, this change is qualitatively not-same as negation, but it’s also not-different.  So, it’s kind of a . . . synthesis . . . of the two, an indeterminate in-between?

I don’t get it.  I think what he’s done is wanted to make an argument for a particular practice of reading, writing, and invention,  then yoked it to a critique of the dialectic.  But I think he’s still doing what he claims he’s not.  I understand the problematic he’s trying to address, but I don’t think his proposed “affirmative change” is different non-dialectic (at this point), just because he says it is.  I give him credit for anticipating my critique–which I admit it fairly obvious–but his answer to it at this point seems to be something like “‘Cause I say it’s not, that’s why.”

Hmm.  More updates on this story as we get them.  Back to you, Tom.